Cannabis has assisted many of the world’s most creative minds. William Shakespeare, Amedeo Modigliani, Steve Jobs, George Carlin, and Pablo Picasso all consumed marijuana to get the creative juices flowing. Billy Burroughs put it perfectly, “Unquestionably, this drug is very useful to the artist, activating trains of association that would otherwise be inaccessible, and I owe many of the scenes in Naked Lunch directly to the use of cannabis.” The ability of marijuana to aid in the creative process is something of common knowledge to today’s consumer, but what does science have to say about it? Does cannabis actually boost a person’s creative ability, or does it hinder an already brilliant mind?
Here’s what some studies have to say
The difficult part about this question is that “creativity” is difficult to measure objectively. It’s no question that Amedeo Modigliani and Steve Jobs were brilliant and creative, but they were vastly different in the use of their creative superpowers. The scientists that have examined the relationship to cannabis and creativity had to look at the correlation between cannabis the common denominator, the brain. Creativity is difficult to measure because it hasn’t been defined clearly, at last not in scientific terms. The behavioral studies that have been done all examined the effect that cannabis has on convergent thinking, which is based in logic and problem solving, and divergent thinking which is explorative and non-linear. Many think of divergent thinking as “creative” thinking since it is more open ended and requires many different modes of thought.
One European study led by Gráinne Schafer examined the relationships between cannabis and creativity in creative versus non-creative people. The subjects were tested via a questionnaire on convergent and divergent thinking as well as verbal fluency on sober days in comparison to intoxicated days. The already highly creative test group saw little change in creative thinking between the sober and intoxicated days, but the low-creativity group scored much higher when intoxicated. Both groups scored roughly the same on verbal fluency on the sober and intoxicated days. According to Schafer’s results, cannabis could aid creative thinking in those who are less creative, but could have little impact on an already creative person. The similar scores in verbal fluency indicates that cannabis could have little influence in the productivity that comes from creative thinking.
One major flaw with Schafer’s study is that the subjects smoked their own pot, so there was no way to control just how much THC each subject was consuming. Any regular consumer of cannabis can tell you that amounts and methods of consumption matter when it comes to productivity and weed. Another study examined the effect of cannabis on creative thinking based on low and high doses. The subjects vaporized a low dose of THC (5.5mg), a high dose (22mg), and a placebo. The subjects were then given tasks to test their convergent and divergent thinking abilities and were scored on fluency, mental flexibility, originality, and elaboration. The low dose group scored slightly higher than the placebo group in fluency, flexibility, and elaboration, but blew both the high dose and placebo groups out of the water on originality. The high dose group, however, scored significantly worse in all categories. These results tell us that lower doses could help with creativity, but high doses could drastically hinder it. It’s also important to consider what constitutes a “low or high” dose of THC will very from person to person depending on individual tolerance and body chemistry.
Cannabis and blood flow to the brain
A 2000 study examined how cannabis use influences blood flow to the brain, and the results are juicy! They study used Positron Emission Tomography (PET) to track cerebral blood flow before and after cannabis consumption and found that marijuana did actually influence which parts of the brain get more and less attention. Cannabis consumption decreased blood flow to the temporal and occipital lobes which handle auditory and visual sensory information like depth perception and reaction time to auditory cues. It also decreased blood flow to the precuneus, which is involved with memory. Science is saying that stoners can be forgetful? Shocking, we know. They did find that cannabis consumption increased blood flow to the frontal lobe, which is in charge of emotional expression, judgement, linguistic expression, and sexual behavior.
So basically, it’s the “creative” section of the brain. Healthline.com calls it “the control panel for the personality”. It also increased blood flow to the insula which influences the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, or the “rest” vs “fight or flight” systems. Lastly, cannabis use increased blood flow to the temporal poles which are involved with emotional processing. This study indicates that while cannabis use might make us slightly uncoordinated and forgetful, it does have a significant influence on creativity.
We have tons of anecdotal evidence dating back to when cannabis was discovered that it helps the creative process, but it isn’t without limits. Cannabis use could have a positive influence on artistic expression if consumed in smaller doses. It makes sense that over intoxication of any type would hinder creativity. It looks like we can add creativity to the constantly growing list of reasons why marijuana is a fantastic plant. After all, thousands of artists can’t be wrong. Marijuana can be a place where science and art intersect in the most beautiful way, but as always, consume responsibly.
“Marijuana enhances our mind in a way that enables us to take a different perspective from ‘high up’, to see and evaluate our own lives and the lives of others in a privileged way. Maybe this euphoric and elevating feeling of the ability to step outside
the box and to look at life’s patterns from this high perspective is the inspiration behind the slang term “high” itself.”
― Sebastian Marincolo